Is It Still Thanksgiving Without the Turkey?

Yesterday, we offered up a selection of meatless options for Thanksgiving and those vegetarians in your life. Truth be told, we're perfectly happy not having turkey -- or any meat at all, for that matter -- at Thanksgiving. We've eaten plenty of delicious Thanksgiving spreads that featured a breathtaking salt-domed salmon or tangy black bean and goat cheese enchiladas as the main dish. And those Thanksgivings? They were memorable ones.

Some people, however, may look at a Thanksgiving spread that's noticeably absent one turkey and immediately feel crestfallen. For them -- like the father in A Christmas Story -- it's just not the holidays without a turkey on the table. But we disagree. For us, Thanksgiving is about spending time with your [crazy, drunken, dysfunctional] family, watching football on the sofa with a plate of leftovers, heading to the movies at night once the old folks have tucked in, meeting up with old friends who are home for the holiday in the neighborhood bar, and laughing at your aunts as they set their alarms for 2 a.m. in order to hit the best Black Friday sales first.

In other words, we can take or leave turkey at Thanksgiving.

And you should, too! Turkey is overrated. Truly. Unless you're a fantastic cook with years of experience (or unless you use a deep fryer), turkey is one of the most bland, dry and tasteless meats out there. Just about the only time we're even vaguely interested in turkey is when it's sliced in a deli and buried under mayonnaise and tomatoes on a sandwich. Turkey sucks.

In fact, here is a [not at all comprehensive] list of things we've had for Thanksgiving dinners that were a million times better than a thawed, saline-injected yet thoroughly dried out turkey:

  • Salt-domed salmon: It's a sight to behold -- every bit as majestic as carving a turkey when you cut into the salt dome -- and the salmon is incredibly moist and flavorful as a result.
  • Lobster: Again, if you're looking for majestic, lobster does the trick every time. And, like turkey, it goes well with potatoes and veggies (just no green bean casserole, okay?). Served with a little melted butter, this will leave your Thanksgiving guests talking for years. In the good way.
  • Goose: There are far better fowl to feast upon than turkey. Goose is just one of them, and it pairs nicely with roasted root vegetables or with nuts (think brandied goose with chestnuts and a fruit-and-nut stuffing).
  • Duck: Yet another excellent choice, and -- like goose -- not something you eat every day, which makes it special enough for the holidays. But don't douse it with orange sauce. There are literally hundreds of other excellent ways to cook duck. Choose one.
  • Lamb: Have you had lamb? We can think of no reason that lamb isn't eaten more in this country (we feel the same way about ketchup potato chips, though) because it's probably the richest, most flavorful meat you can buy. Because of this, there's no fuss needed when roasting a leg of lamb: Marinate it in a few simple ingredients, then cook until still pink inside.

And the list could go on.

Be adventurous this year. Be brave. Be bold. Cook something other than turkey at Thanksgiving. Your guests will thank you.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt